New kid on the bloc
by Lawrence Helman
Lost Boys: Photographs by Slava Mogutin; powerHouse Books, $39.95
Viewing the arresting photographs in Russian exile Slava Mogutin's Lost Boys, I am fully immersed into the world which he chronicles. I'm convinced that he documents a world he sees and inhabits as well. Lost Boys, Mogutin's first monograph, is a compelling collection of portraits and landscapes taken over the past 10 years, since he was exiled from Russia for what the Russian government said was "malicious hooliganism with exceptional cynicism and extreme insolence."
The photographs reek of youth: raw, nubile, punky and downright lustful. The sexuality depicted here is not for the faint-of-heart. Hardcore images abound throughout the 144 pages of color and black-and-white photographs. The Eastern European boys clad and unclad in logo-strewn athletic gear — often gazing directly into Mogutin's lens — are caught in the act of sexual gratification and fetish play. These young men revel in their acts and demand the viewer meet their gaze head on, as if they are saying, "This is my sexual release. Watch if you want, it makes no difference to me." Crimean rasta boys, Russian wrestlers and military cadets, German skinheads, and football hooligans are among the subjects of these incendiary but intimate portraits.
Not all images in this bound collection are of unclad young men in sexual settings. Mogutin shoots landscapes showing apartment-bloc Soviet living, at times dusted with silvery snow, at times in early spring dotted with early green foliage softening the hard edges of the concrete dwellings. A number of the photos depict boys at play, often playing with Western cultural props, i.e.: electric guitars, beer cans and bottles, tennis shoes, plushy costumes and saran wrap — lots of saran wrap, primarily used for bondage. There is a marvelous image titled "Joey Sniffing," a color portrait of two young, muscled chaps in a sublime armpit-sniffing tableaux.
In his own words, Mogutin, now NYC-based, states, "I'm trying to examine the very concept of 'shame' by being completely 'shameless.' That's why I'm so fascinated by old, pre-AIDS porn, where sex captured on film wasn't so mechanical, emotionless, plastic. I enjoy photographing people in vulnerable, intimate situations."
Mogutin was one of the last political dissidents from the former Soviet Union, and the first ever to become a porn star. He has received both critical acclaim and official condemnation for his outspoken writing. Chased out of his country at 21, he was granted political asylum in the US with the support of Amnesty International and American PEN. Mogutin is the author of seven books in Russian, and his writing has been published in six languages. His photography has been exhibited internationally and featured in such diverse publications as i-D, Honcho, Visionaire, Bound & Gagged, BlackBook, Playgirl, Flaunt, Butt, and Stern .